Covert break-ins by Scots police on the rise


By Oliver Farrimond

THE NUMBER of undercover break-ins by Scotland’s police forces has increased dramatically over the past year.

Covert entries to homes and offices, as well as the planting of listening devices and other surveillance equipment, rose by almost 40% compared with previous years.

The figures, for the period April 2009 to April 2010, show that the majority of cases were to tackle suspected drug dealers.

Covert operations were used 163 times in the period, compared with 138 times for the previous year, and all were performed without warrants.

131 instances of covert entry were carried out on the properties and offices of suspected drug dealers.

Stealthy cops also used the secretive tactics to track suspected murderers, armed robbers and kidnappers.

Police and other law enforcement agencies are also empowered by law to use more subtle tactics when deemed necessary, including the electronic hacking of mobile phones, and the use of directional microphones and attaching wires to witnesses.

Rather than acquiring a warrant, officers have to get permission from their chief constable, and all instances are recorded by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie described the growing trend as “very worrying”.

Mr Harvie, the Green Party member for Glasgow, said: “Some use of surveillance is necessary to tackle violent and organised crime, but these are precisely the sort of powers that tend to be misused once they’re made available.

“The rise in the number of break-ins without warrants is very worrying.”

But Scottish Conservative MSP Bill Aitken backed the figures as an important weapon in Scotland’s war on drugs.

He said: “This indicates that we have a growing problem in respect to the importation of drugs and all that entails.”